Jacks or Better is one of – if not the – most popular video poker games. Millions of people around the world play Jacks or Better video poker on a regular basis.

But most of these same players only enjoy the regular format where you play against the house. They’ve yet to experience the excitement of also playing in a Jacks or Better video poker tournament.

Jacks or Better tourneys are fun because you compete against other players in different formats. This gives you a different look at a classic video poker game.

If you’re interested in playing in Jacks or Better tournaments, keep reading as I discuss everything you need to know about doing so.

How to Play Jacks or Better Video Poker Tournaments

If you already know how to play Jacks or Better video poker, then you won’t have to adjust much to the tourney version.

But I’ll explain the basics of Jacks or Better for beginners, along with the tournament format.

Jacks or Better Basics

Jacks or Better is named for the fact that the lowest-qualifying payout is a pair of jacks. This differs from many video poker games, where you need a pair of kings, 2 pair, or 3 of a kind just to win a single coin.

The first step to playing standard Jacks or Better is inserting your money into the game and choosing how many coins you wish to play. The number of coins that you can play ranges from 1 to 5 per hand.

Players are advised to bet 5 coins, because this is the only way that you can get the top royal flush payout.

Here’s how royal flush payouts differ based on the number of coins you wager:

  • 1-credit bet = 250 coins
  • 2-credit bet = 500 coins
  • 3-credit bet = 750 coins
  • 4-credit bet = 1,000 coins
  • 5-credit bet = 4,000 coins

Most casinos have a variety of video machines with different coin denominations ranging from $0.05 to $25.

Video poker tournaments normally use quarter denomination video poker machines because they’re the most common. This means that you’ll be wagering $1.25 per hand on a 5-coin max bet.

Many Jacks or Better Tournaments Remove the Option to Change Bets

You can see that royal flush payouts increase by perfect 250-coin increments when betting between 1 and 4 credits. But there’s a disproportionate 3,000-coin increase when you wager 5 coins.

This is the only payout that has a disproportionate gain in the entire game. But it’s also significant enough to make a long-term difference in payback.

Of course, there’s nothing compelling a recreational player to use all these coins. But serious Jacks or Better players always bet 5 credits per turn.

For this reason, many video poker tournaments automatically make bets worth the 5-credit max. This saves you the hassle of having to change betting options before the tournament begins.

Jacks or Better tournaments also differ from the regular format in that you don’t insert money into the machine.

Instead, you pay a single buy-in, and the casino gives you a certain amount of starting credits. For example, you might buy into tournament with $20 and receive 1,000 starting credits.

Some video poker tourneys are completely free, meaning you don’t pay a buy-in. These also give you a set amount of credits for tournament play.

I’ll discuss the difference in Jacks or Better video poker tourney formats later.

One more major difference between tournaments and regular play is how payouts are distributed. A normal Jacks or Better video poker machine sees your winnings come from individual hands.

Tournaments differ, though, because individual hands are only used for purposes of scoring the event. Payouts are instead based on a predetermined prize pool.

Here’s an example of a video poker tournament prize pool:

  • Total prize pool = $2,000
  • 1st place = $1,000
  • 2nd place = $500
  • 3rd place = $250
  • 4th place = $150
  • 5th place = $100

You must finish in the top five in this example to receive any kind of payout. You don’t get anything if you finish outside this range.

This creates interesting strategy situations where players may deviate from conventional video poker play to earn one of the top-paying positions. One of these unconventional strategies involves only keeping cards that help you land a royal flush.

Tournament organizers will distribute payouts accordingly once the tourney is finished. You can see in the prize pool example that most of the money is weighted towards the top.

Jacks or Better Pay Table

If you’re relatively new to Jacks or Better, it’s worth learning how much each hand is worth.

This information is listed on machines when you’re playing the tournament. I suggest familiarizing yourself with the payouts beforehand just to see why you’re chasing certain hands.

Here’s a look at the pay table:

Pay Table - 9/6 Jacks or Better game

This pay table is from a 9/6 Jacks or Better game. The 9 refers to the full house payout, and the 6 alludes to the flush prize.

Jacks or Better has many different pay tables, including 9/5, 8/6, and 8/5. These all refer to the payouts for a full house and flush.

I’ve never seen a Jacks or Better tournament offer anything but the 9/6 pay table. The reason why casinos offer 9/5 tables and below for regular play is because this gives them a larger house edge.

Considering that players are competing against each other, rather than the house, there’s no need for casino to feature a worse pay table.

Jacks or Better is one of the least-volatile games in video poker. It pays more money for lower hands than the average video poker machine.

For example, most games don’t offer 9 coins for a full house and 6 for a flush.

It’s also worth noting that Jacks or Better doesn’t have any special bonus payouts like with many other games. Certain video poker machines offer bonus prizes for specific 4 of a kinds.

This adds excitement because you have more big payouts to chase. But the drawback is that you’ll win less money on lower qualifying hands, which occur more frequently.

I find low volatility to be a charm of Jacks or Better video poker tournaments because I get more solid payouts on a regular basis. And even though the payouts don’t directly offer money, it’s still fun to rack up more frequent wins during a tourney.

Where to Find Jacks or Better Video Poker Tournaments

You won’t have much trouble finding Jacks or Better video poker tourneys because they’re offered in both land-based and online casinos. This means that if you can’t find tournaments in local casinos, you can always turn to an internet gaming site.

Land-based venues commonly hold video poker tournaments to draw customers back to the casino. They’ll send an email or letter inviting a player to participate in the tourney.

Some brick-and-mortar casinos also offer buy-in video poker tournaments. But these are less common than free events that are held as special promotions.

Online casinos offer video poker tourneys on a regular basis. This is especially true of Jacks or Better because it’s such a popular game.

The process for registering and participating in a Jacks or Better video poker tournament varies based on whether you’ll play at a land-based or online casino.

Brick-and-mortar casinos commonly see you show up to the event early and register in person. Some casinos also let you register through their website.

Registering for an online video poker tourney involves navigating to the casino’s “tournaments” tab. You then scroll down the list of available tournaments and look for a Jacks or Better event.

You’ll be shown relevant information when you select the desired tourney. This info normally includes the following:

  • Entry requirements (i.e., buy-in or free)
  • Rebuys (if applicable)
  • Prize pool
  • Start time and date
  • Leaderboard

Online Jacks or Better freeroll tournaments don’t require a buy-in. Unless there’s a special VIP requirement, any online casino member can enter these events.

But you need to make a deposit to play in real money online video poker tournaments. This involves visiting the casino’s banking section and finding out which of the available banking options you can use.

Once you fund your account with one of the deposits methods, you’ll be able to enter any Jacks or Better tourney within your buy-in range.

Know the Different Types of Jacks or Better Video Poker Tournaments

As I mentioned earlier, you’ll come across different Jacks or Better tourney formats. These different types of tournaments vary based on the entry requirements.

Here are the main styles of Jacks or Better tournaments that you’ll find at online and brick-and-mortar casinos:

  • Buy-in – You pay an entry fee, which goes into the prize pool. The house may also take a small fee out of the buy-in worth 5% or 10%
  • Open freeroll – These freerolls are open to any member of a casino. All you must do is register and be ready by the tournament start time
  • VIP freeroll – You must be of a certain VIP status to enter these freeroll tournaments

Considerations with Jacks or Better Tournaments

Free Jacks or Better video poker tournaments obviously sound the best. You don’t need to risk anything to play, and you can win prize money.

The downside, though, is that you’ll either be in an overcrowded open freeroll or must obtain special VIP status.

I don’t personally like playing in Jacks or Better open freerolls because so many players are involved. Furthermore, the prize pool is so small in comparison to the field that you have little chance of cashing.

VIP video poker tournaments are worth competing in if you’re invited. But you normally must be a frequent player to receive an invitation.

I like playing Jacks or Better tournaments with buy-ins because the field is proportionate to the prize money. Therefore, you’re not competing against an overcrowded group to win a small amount of money.

The only problem is that you won’t find many buy-in events in land-based casinos. This leaves you having to play the majority of buy-in video poker tournaments at online casinos.

I don’t normally mind this. But sometimes it’s nice to experience a Jacks or Better tournament in a live setting.

Jacks or Better Tournament Rules

In addition to the entry structure, you also want to read a Jacks or Better tournament’s rules before entering. This is crucial because it can affect the optimal strategy.

Here are standard rules for video poker tournaments:

  • Timed – A timed tourney lasts for a specified time limit (e.g., 30 minutes). The winner is whoever has the highest score when the time runs out
  • Hand limit – These tournaments run for a certain amount of hands (e.g., 400 hands). The winner is whoever has the most credits when everybody has played all their hands
  • Credit limit – A credit-limit tourney lasts until every player runs out of credits. The winner is whoever has the biggest bankroll when each player has exhausted their credits
  • Combination of credit and time limit – This works like a normal timed tournament. But the twist is that players can run out of credits before the time limit is up

You’ll see more timed Jacks or Better video poker tournaments than anything else. The biggest skill in these games is playing as fast as possible so that you improve your chances of winning more credits.

A timed tournament begins as soon as the clock starts running. If you’re playing in a 20-minute tournament, then you only have 20 minutes to win the most credits possible.

The other type of Jacks or Better tournament is the hand-limit variety. These allow you to slow things down because everybody gets a chance to play the specified amount of hands.

Learn Strategy for Jacks or Better Video Poker Tournaments

Basic strategy is the best place to start learning how to win in Jacks or Better tourneys. It’s good to know how to use optimal strategy on a regular Jacks or Better game before you plunge into the tournament scene.

I’m going to cover how to learn the basics through charts and training programs, along with when you should deviate from common strategy.

Jacks or Better Strategy Chart and Trainer

You won’t have to look very hard for Jacks or Better video poker strategy. This is a very popular game, meaning you can find the strategy on many different sites.

One simple way to learn is by looking at a Jacks or Better strategy chart. The following chart will help you achieve the optimal payback of 0.54% payback in 9/6 Jacks or Better:

  • 1. Royal flush, straight flush, 4 of a kind
  • 2. 4 cards to a royal flush
  • 3. Full house, flush, straight, 3 of a kind
  • 4. 4 cards to a straight flush
  • 5. 2 pair
  • 6. High pair (aces to jacks)
  • 7. 3 cards to a royal
  • 8. 4 cards to a flush
  • 9. Unsuited K-Q-J-T
  • 10. Low pair (10s to 2s)
  • 11. 4 cards to an outside straight with 0-2 high cards
  • 12. 3 cards to a straight flush
  • 13. Suited Q-J
  • 14. 4 cards to an inside straight with 4 high cards
  • 15. Suited K-Q, K-J
  • 16. Suited A-K, A-Q, or A-J
  • 17. 4 cards to an inside straight with 3 high cards
  • 18. 3 cards to a straight flush
  • 19. Unsuited K-Q-J
  • 20. Unsuited Q-J
  • 21. Suited J-T
  • 22. 2 unsuited high cards with king high card
  • 23. Suited Q-T
  • 24. 2 unsuited high cards with ace high card
  • 25. Jack only
  • 26. Suited K-T
  • 27. Queen, king, or ace only
  • 28. 3 cards to a straight flush

I recommend that you look over this chart and use it when learning to play Jacks or Better. This helps you slowly figure out the optimal hands to play in each situation.

Once you familiarize yourself with what hands to play in different situations, you should graduate towards using a trainer. A Jacks or Better trainer corrects your mistakes so that you eventually learn good strategy through repetition.

You can find free 9/6 Jacks or Better video poker trainers just by googling the phrase. This is unlike some video poker machines, which force you to buy software just to practice.

A trainer is the perfect tool for improving at timed tournaments because you don’t have time to use a chart in these events.

Perfect Jacks or Better Video Poker Tournament Differs Based on the Event

Using the correct strategy discussed above is normally a good play in Jacks or Better tourneys. But the optimal strategy can also change based on each individual tournament.

The size of the event will play a large role in what strategy you should employ. Using optimal strategy is the way to go in smaller tourneys because the chances of somebody getting a royal flush are lower.

If you’re playing a timed tournament, you’ll need the ability to make correct strategy decisions in a short time frame. Video poker trainers are perfect for learning this skill.

You can take all the time you need in a hand-limit tournament because there’s no pressure. I recommend these to players who are starting out with tourneys.

You’ll often need a royal flush to win a large video poker tournament. This is where you break from conventional strategy and adopt a royal-only approach.

As the name implies, this strategy involves only keeping cards that can help you get a royal flush.

Many players will find the royal-only strategy weird because it’s a poor way to play conventional video poker. But somebody often gets a royal in a large tournament, meaning that you also need the top hand to have any chance of winning.

I recommend purchasing a customizable video poker trainer to set up a royal-only Jacks or Better strategy. This allows you to practice the right approach so that you’re prepared for bigger tournaments.


Jacks or Better video poker tournaments present a fun way to play a classic video poker variation. And you can use the information in this post to make your transition to tourneys a smooth one.

The key is knowing the differences between Jacks or Better tournament and regular play. And the most notable difference is that you’ll see new formats and rules introduced.

The rules that you’ll see in Jacks or Better events include timed, hand-limit, and combination tournaments. Different formats include buy-in, open freerolls, and VIP freerolls.

You’ll obviously be playing to win any Jacks or Better video poker tournament that you enter. Therefore, it’s important to know that optimal strategy can vary based on the size of a tournament.

Standard Jacks or Better strategy works well in smaller events. But you’ll need to chase a royal flush when you’re competing against dozens or hundreds of players.

Once you gain some experience in Jacks or Better tournaments, you’ll have a better idea of what you like. Your chances of winning will also improve.

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